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Butchering tips--plan ahead.

On rare occasion you may experience a situation in which you end up butchering an animal on short notice due to injury or some other circumstance. For instance, in the past 40 years on our ranch we've butchered a young cow that was shot in the hind leg by a hunter (shattering the lower leg bone); a cow that got on her back in a ditch and suffocated just before we found her; a weanling heifer with a broken leg; a young bull that was run into by a vehicle on the county road that goes through part of our range pasture; an old cow that suffered a dislocated stifle joint; four big steers that tumbled out the back of a trailer when the door latch failed and they fell out on the road and were seriously injured; and a big heifer calf that bloated on alfalfa pasture, to name a few. In most cases, when an animal suffers irreparable injury or has died shortly before you find it, the meat can be salvaged if you act quickly--unless you have recently given that animal medication or a vaccination that would make the meat unfit for human consumption.

In most instances, however, the animal you butcher is one that you've selected ahead of time. Many stockmen choose a yearling or two-year-old for butchering, since a young animal is generally tenderer than an older one--though a mature animal often has more flavor. An older animal may not be tender enough for steaks, but provides excellent roasts (which can be slow-cooked) and hamburger. Often an ideal animal to butcher is a heifer that comes up open in the fall, or a two-year-old cow that's had a calf and did not breed back. An old cow that comes up open and can't be sold because of lameness or some other problem is often a good candidate for hamburger. No matter how old and thin she is, a "hamburger" cow can provide a lot of lean burger and excellent tenderloin or backstrap--the strip of meat along the backbone in the loin area.

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It's best to plan ahead, if possible, to schedule butchering of an animal, so any vaccinations are given well beforehand. Check the labels on all vaccines and medications to know their withdrawal times--the amount of time that must elapse before that drug or vaccine is completely eliminated from the body. If butchered too soon, there may be residues in the meat.

For example, beef should not be slaughtered within 21 days of a clostridia vaccination (blackleg, malignant edema, redwater, etc. which are usually in a seven- or eight-way combo) or 28 days of an oxytetracycline antibiotic like LA-200. Pour-on or injectable insecticides and dewormers usually have an even longer withdrawal period. If you vaccinate/ deworm the animal in the spring and butcher in late summer or early fall, this won't be an issue, if the animal develops a problem that needs treatment with antibiotics or any other drugs, postpone butchering until he is completely recovered and enough time has elapsed that the drug has been eliminated from the body tissues.

Unless you are experienced in butchering, you'll probably have your beef commercially processed. You can schedule your animal(s) for a certain day and time, and the butcher will bring his truck to your place and kill the animal or you can haul it to the processing facility in a truck or trailer. It's easier to have the butcher come to your place, and the animal will be less stressed if it can stay in its familiar environment, but not all custom meat processors are set up to do this.

The animal will be easier to butcher if it does not have an extremely full gut. It's best to withhold feed for 10 to 12 hours before slaughter. If butchering in the morning, give a partial feed the night before, and don't give a morning feed. If the animal is on pasture, it won't eat much during the night, so an early morning butcher time works well.

Try to keep the animal calm and relaxed. If you must bring it in from a pasture or move it to a different pen, do it without fuss or excitement. If you must haul it to the butchering place, try to corral and load it quietly and calmly. A stressed, excited animal produces adrenalin, which will make the meat tougher.

If the animal will be butchered at home, put it in a pen that won't be used for other cattle right away. Most butchers that come to your place will haul off the gut pile and other remains, so you won't have to worry about disposing of that material, but there will be some blood that spills on the ground. The smell of blood is upsetting to cattle; they snort, bellow and become aggressive.

The blood smell will stay on the ground a long time, until washed away by rain, so do the butchering in a place there won't be any cattle--not in the middle of your corral or where cattle have to travel past that spot. Otherwise they will stop there and sniff around, bowing their necks as if to fight, blowing their noses and bellowing, and it can be difficult to get the herd to move on past the area. Cattle often become very excited and upset at the smell of blood, so make sure you don't have blood on your hands or clothes from the butchering when you handle or move other cattle, or they may become alarmed and unpredictable. A little forethought before and during butchering can save problems later.
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Title Annotation:The butcher block
Author:Thomas, Heather Smith
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:940
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